The vinyl resurgence shows no sign of slowing, so here's a great budget turntable for your newly thrifted LPs.

Stern Unveils The Walking Dead Pinball Machines

  Walking-dead-pinball

Stern is the only major pinball machine manufacturer still in business. They seem to be tempting fate with their latest licensed machine, based on AMC's The Walking Dead. The zombie-themed show seems like an unusual pick for Stern, but perhaps the wild panic of trying to avoid a zombie hoard isn't that much different from the quest not to lose your balls. Well, except for the flesh eating bit. 

The machine is available in two editions: the $5995 Pro and the more advanced $8595 LE (shown above). Each looks fantastic, but the LE includes a variety of gameplay bonuses such as some "Well Walker" exposed guts, the "Governor's Fish Tank" and a few other ramps and targets that should lead you down the path of blind panic in no time. 

Walking-dead-playfield

The Walking Dead is available only in North America. And while the price of these handmade machines might be somewhat scary for some, Stern Pinball is anything but deceased-- the factory floor is busier than it has been for years, churning out endless rows of machines for nostalgic gamers. 

The Walking Dead Pinball [Stern]

I Hear We're All Supposed To Wear Watches Now

Nothing screams 'geek cred' quite like a DIP switch.

Have you heard? Watches are suddenly cool again. After years of encouraging us to tell time using phones, the major smartphone companies are now insisting that we need watches. Fancy electronic watches that talk and flash and vibrate and know when we go to the bathroom or decide to spontaneously climb a flight of stairs. They can even call 911 when we collapse unceremoniously on the 18th floor landing. 

While some highly impressionable people will opt for mysteriously complex Dick Tracy wrist computers that require you to carry a matching $1000 telephone in your pocket, millions of others might respond to the not-so-gentle urgings of smartphone companies by purchasing a somewhat more traditional timepiece; a clever Casio, or maybe even an inexpensive Seiko 5 mechanical watch. 

If you're a tad more adventurous, you might consider the Click DIP-Switch timepiece. It's even more distinctive than most smartphone accessories, but not nearly as expensive (or capable). This clunky rectangular timepiece is capable of displaying 12 or 24 hour time, can tell you what day it is, has an almost incomprehensible "bar graph" mode, along with prehistoric backlighting for reading the time in dark caves or while buried 6 feet under. It doesn't have bluetooth, wi-fi, haptic feedback, a touch screen, heart rate monitor or even a fancy "digital crown." Heck, it doesn't even have an analog crown. 

Available from Watchismo for just over $100, in gloriously hideous silver and circuit board green/blue/red. 

Steam Powered King Tiger Tank

Radio controlled steam tank

I loved building model kits when I was younger, but it never dawned on me how fun it would be to combine a Tamiya 1/16 kit of a WWII German King Tiger tank with a couple of miniature Regner Piccolo steam engines and a 3.5" marine boiler. This brilliant machine uses 100% steam propulsion, relying on batteries only for remote control and lighting.

The tank is controlled using a traditional 6-channel radio control unit, although the R/C receiver is a custom designed circuit board. All in all, this a brilliant machine. My only regret is that there aren't more of them. A nice little British Cromwell might prove to be an excellent adversary. 

Steam Turret Tank [instructables via Hack a Day]

Peter Zinovieff's Computer Orchestra (1968)

This newsreel footage of "boffin" Peter Zinovieff gives a bit of insight into how difficult it was to create electronic music in the 1960s. For several years, Zinovieff worked out if his futuristic shed with Delia Derbyshire (who pieced together the original ethereal Doctor Who theme) and Brian Hodgson on an ill-fated project to create and promote electronic music. 

VCS3 Putney synthesizer

Zinovieff's groundbreaking contribution to popular music came a year after this newsreel, when he formed EMS with Tristam Cary and David Cockerell. Together, they produced the the VCS3 'Putney' synthesizer that retailed for the stunningly low price of £330. It was used on recordings by Pink Floyd, the Alan Parsons Project, Jean Michel Jarre, Todd Rundgren, Brian Eno and many others. 

Over the next decade EMS released the Synthi range of instruments, culminating with the introduction of the Polysynthi in 1978. 

Computer Orchestra (1968)

Transformers (Sort Of) Padlock (Sort Of)

Lock man openI wasn't the right age to be fascinated with Transformers when they were new, though I did like a lot of the early all-metal robot toys. It was almost like a three dimensional puzzle, and when you were done you could admire the cleverness of a racecar that turned into a robot. Quickly the knockoffs came, with often shamefully poor representations of the transforming robot concept, and looked lbad whether vehicle or robot.

Lock man package miniIn addition to the little vehicles, there were also converting toys that were in real-world scale. In the original toyline, the lead bad guy, Megatron, transformed into a kid-sized chrome handgun (which seems almost unimaginable now...) - way out of scale with the rest of the lineup of cars and jets and so on. They came up with an explanation of sorts in the cartoon, but since the big-budget films, they've neatly avoided those weird size issues by redefining many of the stock players.

The movies don't seem to feel any obligation to stick to the specific robot forms of the old characters. Now pretty much any earthly object can become a transforming robot thanks to the Cybertron mojo that hops into it (I think... those movies are darned confusing at times...). This new approach feels to me a bit like Frosty the Snowman coming to life thanks to that magic hat, but Transformers fans really don't like it when I say stuff like that.

Lock-man lockedThis knockoff transforming toy is named "Lock-Man" (how many memos got passed around to approve THAT name?) by a company called Four Star. By day, he is a mild-mannered ineffective all-metal padlock (Why "ineffective"? That dial on the front does nothing. The lock opens with a button on the side). However when trouble strikes, he transforms into the Johnny Long Torso of robots. But to help you, he'd have to unlock himself to run to your rescue - right? Wouldn't that leave your valuables unprotected? Seems like the Decepticons would have figured that out too.

I have to admit that even with my fondness for odd ideas (you're looking at a whole website full of 'em!), and poorly thought out rip-off products, Lock-Man is pretty lame - even for a knockoff (the original design is Bandai's "Metal Joe"). But at least he's not a Go-Bot, okay?

 

The Cold War Nixie Tube Clock That Never Was

Cold War Nixie Clock

Hank writes, "I recently completed an all-tube, zero solid state, dekatron and nixie tube clock that is built only with components that were available in 1959. It's not a reproduction, because it was never a product in the first place!

You don't see them much anymore, but in this clock Dekatron tubes are probably the most important components because they are the register elements that store and count the current time. Dekatron tubes were introduced the early 1950s and were often seen in particle counters for atomic research. They were also used in some lower speed base-10 computers, but faded out in around 1960 when solid state binary-based computing took over. 

It's fully documented on my website with schematics (hand-drafted of course), operation/service manual, a video, and hi-res photos."

Stunning interior design.

It took him a year and a half to build this brilliant one-of-a-kind chronometer. That's time well spent, if you ask us. 

See Hank's Cold War Clock page for more photos and details.

Science Fiction Thimbles - From The Future!

Dalek-and-max-thimbles-800Even around this house, these things are weird.

Like every kind of object in the world, there are collectors for thimbles. Of course, that crowd is going to create new collectibles for their own delight. If you asked me, I would have denied it, but I guess it makes a kind of sense that someone would create sci fi thimbles.

There's no year on the Dalek thimble. My guess would be the late 70s when the show was seeing a tremendous surge of interest thanks to Tom Baker's portrayal. The thimble is genuine ceramic, with a little gold trim on it. I could see it being a cherished little thing for someone's collection back then. The Dalek is slightly misshapen, as they often were in merchandise. They're such a weird shape, especially if you're barely attention.

The other thimble is even odder. It's just cheap cream-colored plastic. There's a very cheap-looking stamp of Max on the front, with "COKE" listed four times on the obverse. In red. In an unimaginative typewriter font. Clearly not an official product, instead clearly a cheap and odd cashing in on the late 80s fad. Which makes it all the more lovable.

I do love these two thimbles at the front of a shelf in my office. To me, they represent the breadth of sci-fi thimble making technology (as far as I know - I've got a lot more research to do). Not only can you show off your science fiction allegiances in your sewing basket, but you can tell everyone that you have your very own Dalek that helps keep all the little pricks away.

"Monkey Grip Glue" 16mm Color Kinescope

Bill Wyman was the bassist for the Rolling Stones, but found time for a solo effort. Here's a rare 16mm kinescope that a friend of mine just transferred ro video. It's a "Live" (lip-synched) performance of his song "Monkey Grip Glue". I don't know anything more about the clips, except that it looks like it's from a "Top Of The Pops" style show. Not only is this a different version of the clip that has been around on YouTube, but the color is unusually good considering the age of the film, and that color kinescoping didn't usually work all that well.

Ben Heck Gets A Mac Classic To Spill Its Guts

We've featured Ben Heckendorn here at Retro Thing before. He made a splash in the worlds of retro game console modding through his many clever projects to make pretty much any game system ever portable. he hasn't stopped since then, with one mad scientist-tastic project after another.

To keep up with this madman, electronics component purveyor Newark has given Ben his own weekly internet show. Every week he launches into some project or other - maybe a build, a tutorial, or a teardown like this one. While musing whether the world needs yet another Steve Jobs biopic, he sets his sights on cracking open a classic Mac, just to see what's inside. As he threatens to set loose the blue smoke, you'll see just how clever the design of the Mac was, even in the late 80s.

Would you refurb an old Mac to work like new, or would you use it as fodder to add some more modern electronics in there? What would you build?

Superboard III: Briel Recreates Another 1970s Microcomputer

Briel Superboard III

Vince Briel seems to be on a one man quest to remake each and every cool 1970s microcomputer. His past designs include a tiny version of the Altair 8800, the Apple I, Commodore KIM-1 and even a VT-100 terminal emulator.

His latest creation is a wicked version of the Ohio Scientific OSI 600, the Superboard III. It features a low power (3.3V) WDC65C02 processor at 1 MHz and includes 32K RAM and 1K video RAM (25x25 characters with the standard OSI text and graphic character set - a switchable 32x32 mode is also available). 

Unlike the original, there's no cassette interface but there is a 9600 bps serial port for loading programs. If you'd like a slightly more modern method of loading data, there's also a USB port that can be used to power the system and transfer programs using a terminal program such as Hyperterm. 

The original Superboard II was a brilliant example of early microcomputer miniaturization because it was an all-in-one system with the keyboard, processor, memory, video and I/O circuits all on the same board. Briel's recreation achieves the same effect with custom keycaps on Cherry MX mechanical switches that emulate the look of the original with a better feel. 

One nice change is the functionality of the Break key. On the original Superboard II, its proximity to Return caused all sorts of problems because it caused a cold reset (losing everything in memory) when tapped accidentally. To avoid this sort of nastiness, the new version requires you to hold the key for 3 seconds before performing a reset. 

There's also a 40-pin expansion port, although the pinout is different than the original to prevent enthusiastic vintage fans from attempting to plug old 5V expansion cards into the low voltage 3.3V Superboard III and causing damage. 

All in all, this might be the most impressive Briel recreation yet and I can't wait to see what he's got up his sleeves for the future. I'd love to own a Commodore PET-2001 clone. Just saying.

Briel Computers Superboard III Microcomputer


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